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Judita Vaičiūnaitė

Judita Vaičiūnaitė (1937–2001) – one of the most famous 20th century Lithuanian poets. Her first poetry book Spring Watercolours (Pavasario akvarelės) was published in 1960. She is the author of 20 poetry books. Vaičiūnaitė also wrote poetry and fairy tales for children.
“In her many books of poetry she explored a wide field of experience-from Lithuanian mythology to modern jazz and from historical figures to contemporary city dwellers. Regarded as a poet of the city and the night, she is also a re-creator of myths. One of her favourite forms is the dramatic monologue, she is fascinated by human events which occur within the backdrop of Vilnius' Old City, where she spent most of her life”.  (from allpoetry.com)
“Vaičiūnaitė made Vilnius the locus of both Lithuanian poetic obsessions: nature and history. The city is not just any city. It is northern, yet Baroque. It is an occupied city, under Soviet rule, yet steeped in its own history and mythology of independence. And with this new emphasis on the urban came an unsentimental look at the life of a modern woman in the city: single, educated, working, struggling to be free”. (translator Rimas Užgiris)
Judita Vaičiūnaitė's poetry collection in English "Crystal: Selected poems" is forthcoming from Pica Pica Press this autumn.

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Algimantas Maldutis, Still-Life, 1981, From the MO Museum collection.
 

***

Sunday will come.
    We will cover our bread with kisses and butter.
We will scan, haphazardly, the circus posters
and wander
    through the motley noisy city of sun
like two naughty children.

When midday comes like dust between the teeth,
we’ll fill our bottles with tawny beer,
and surrounded by bar smoke –
    packed in the cabin of a boat,
we will not dare to cuddle with our brothers.

Cupolas, columns, bridges floating by,
time will swim beyond the window,
    and we’ll forget that it’s even there...
Sunday will come.
    And seven lamps will smash into flour.
Dawn will break as colored confetti.

 

Like Two Beasts of Babylon

Two broken, concrete lions guard
the door of a dilapidated, two-story house,
like two beasts of Babylon,
under white acacia blooms.
Cold rain,
sadness like fog,
a dripping branch
casts a threatening shadow,
and you stop for a second,
having closed the bookstore doors –
a strange world awaits,
secret and glowing, in the book
you carry home in your hands
to a house, shabby and dismal,
a street running north by the river,
yet a cold spring rain stirs in your veins –
faster, faster, fiercely –
two beasts of Babylon,
two broken, concrete lions lie.

 

***

Feverish heat in the city:
    you serve me mother’s wine
    with the dog rose’s red sun.
We form an arch at night –
    grown together in our embrace.
I live by day –
    wild, lonely, choking
    with joy.
On dusty, burnt-out cobblestones,
    we jump –
    into a deceiving light
full of childish want, worry, and woe.
Mulled wine stains
    my dress, the floor, the earth.
Arches of clasping hands.
    The dog rose burns.
    June.

 

 Judita Vaiciunaite 03Algimantas Kunčius, Reminiscences 58. Vilnius, 1983. From the MO Museum collection.

 

from the cycle Castle

4

Journey on, merchants and monks,
    squires and knights,
journey on, variegated masses,
    along the Vilnia and Neris.
Unblock the frothing sun,
    in the half-empty roiling city,
and drink from your hands –
    this stone city turns eternal here.
Greeted in so many tongues,
    set down a round stone each.
The wind blows through alleys straight from the rivers.
    Steaming
with rancid motley sounds, dawn breaks.
    Don’t fear going blind –
Babylon will not rise in this world,
    but stone-walled Vilnius instead.
Don’t tear yours eyes away
    from morning’s light white clouds
reflected in the confluence
    where they turn into belfries.
Silversmiths, salt-sellers and cobblers,
    may you live here in concord.
All homeless wanderers of goodwill –
    may you build this Vilnius.


Sunflower

In Vilnius, in a construction site on Tartar Street,
    a sunflower grew last year –
a flower of green, alien blood,
    always turned to the sun,
last summer’s symbol –
    I still hear its murmur in the wind,
I still see its golden ring of leaves,
    dusty and bright,
a flower of green, alien blood,
    as if sprouting from the Vilnius baroque,
it rocked its noble head up high
    above the sleepy heat of scattered
bricks, above debris,
    above foundations previously unseen,
    above the medieval town
with my royal summer park
    on top of breaking glass – O wind,
play another madrigal above the iron stubble,
    an echo is audible from last year
in this waste land of heat, last summer’s penurious
    flower changing its golden face again
to gaze through clouds of dust.

 

 

Lullaby

    – for Ula

Summer on the banks. Laundering by night in the river...
Moonlight cools the balcony’s tin.
Wires from street lamps sway like bridges
and a slender voice sounds from the gutter’s slop:
– Rock-a-bye baby, my forgotten one – –

That voice from fairytales lulls like a rustling...
Somewhere in the subconscious – rushes in the mist,
the harsh light of the moon (I was born on a Monday)...
To the rhythm of a nighttime intersection, I rock my newborn:
– Rock-a-bye baby, my forgotten one – –

 

 Judita Vaiciunaite 04Algimantas Kunčius, Reminiscences 86. Vilnius, 1985. From the MO Museum collection.

 

 

 

By Steamboat

The slow and dark-green river water
    will be this summer’s mirror,
dragonflies and butterflies play in the sun,
    two scrawny seagulls,
a drake, glossy in the reeds –
    the moment in which you understand
the enchantment of sailing through summer’s garden,
    the glittering
reflections of the shore, shadows of bridges,
    that whole August landscape
of river and harbor, the shoal by the castle,
    the shocking strength
of feeling, the blue lane of acacias –
    upon embarking from the steamboat,
wonder’s joy – damp pebbles
    like pearls in your hand,
yellow wildflowers blooming late,
    marsh marigolds
and buttercups swimming in the stream,
    sunflower sway in the wind,
shocks of rye in a field at twilight,
    rose hips
by the trolley bus stop
    beginning to clarify your blood.

 

Drought (II)

Mad city heat
with wide-open windows
on heavy, fetid and sweltering twilights –
when above the dusty trees,
above the parking
lots, bats
fly
dumb with humidity –
this dismal summer
with the stench of cemeteries,
when my dead sister’s golden mirror
retains my impressed reflection
like a twin,
when a fire burns in the street by the parched fountain –
the tenement roof flames into the night,
when the comet’s pearl necklace
pierces Jupiter’s face –
a time of crumbling icebergs,
when my nerves drink in
this midsummer cosmic catastrophe
with its twinkling cold fragments in the sky,
and throughout the drought
I echo within my knocking heart.

 

To Gather Geraniums Yet

To gather geraniums yet
for the hallway’s windowsill,
to darn again black tights
while yellow petals unfurl –

like a masterpiece without a fake,
clarified by morning’s ray –
to smile still through the ache
in front of the mirror’s grey,

each day deeper yet – January,
into the jaws of solitude’s flat,
to carry the profile secretly,
like the germ of life, by the heart.

 

***

I’m leaving.
    My dress opens like an old parachute –
I never owned
    so much wind, so much space...
Neighborhoods rotate below me
    like a postcard stand.
An ancient pear tree
    by the gates burns white as a dandelion.
I’m a soap bubble
    expanding in multi-colored suns,
bribing the streets
    with my hoarse hum, barely heard...
So I drink a handful of water
    from a rusty fountain,
and, except for the dawning of warm days,
    take nothing with me for the road...

 

Translation by Rimas Užgiris

 

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